Gian Lorenzo Bernini was just twenty-three years old when he received one of his first commissions to make a full-sized bust of Pope Paul V, the recently deceased uncle of his most important patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

In this two-and-a-half foot marble portrait, Bernini depicts the pope almost bareheaded, his hair styled in the "tonsure of St. Peter," a practice that signified the renunciation of worldly fashion, and dressed in traditional pontifical vestments. The thick cope covering his shoulders is richly decorated with embroidery of the patron saints of Rome, the Apostles Peter (holding his keys and a book) and Paul (holding the sword of his martyrdom and a book).

While he is robed in the garments of the papacy, Pope Paul V gazes at the viewer with a natural expression, his face individualized by the slight turn of his head, the delicate contours of his forehead and the tiny wrinkles carved around his eyes.

At this time, Bernini is already making the dynamic sculptures for which he will become famous, yet here his subject requires restraint. The artist's subdued dynamism can best be seen in the folds of drapery at the sitter's left shoulder, suggesting his body moves underneath.

This bust was kept in the Villa Borghese in Rome until 1893 and then sold. Its whereabouts have been unknown until its rediscovery in late 2014.

Art + Ideas Podcast: In the Galleries: Borghese-Windsor Cabinet and Bust of Pope Paul V


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